Strapping on the backpack” is a daily ritual for students who struggle to stuff and carry the necessities of school: Books, binders and supplies, alongside their sports gear, food and drinks. Research indicates that there are long-term health risks associated with youth who wear poorly designed backpacks or carry too much weight. In fact, over 50% of Canadian youth will suffer at least one back pain episode during their school years. Not only are these injuries painful, they can directly impact the enjoyment of leisure and sports activities that are critical part of a young person’s life.

As spine experts, chiropractors have a strong interest in ensuring that children do not hurt their backs, necks, and muscles. Chiropractic doctors play an important role in preventative education and early detection as well as providing care for the treatment of backpack related injuries. If your child has back pain, your family chiropractor may be able to help.


Carrying a heavy load that is unevenly or improperly distributed can result in poor posture; and even distort the spinal column, throwing it out of alignment. This can cause muscle strain, headaches, back, neck and arm pain, and even nerve damage.

For example, a heavy backpack, carried on one shoulder, forces the muscles and spine to compensate for the uneven weight. This places stress on the mid and lower back, and may increase the likelihood of back problems later in life.

More than 50 per cent of young people experience at least one episode of lower back pain by their teenage years. Research indicates that this could be caused, to a great extent, by improper use of backpacks.


Prevention is key to avoiding injuries!

Here are a few pointers to help you help your school age childerne carry their load comfortably and safely …

Elementary school students should not carry more than 10% of their body weight. Secondary school students should avoid carrying weight exceeding 15% of their body weight. (eg. If your child is 80 pounds, they shouldn’t carry more than eight pounds- or the equivalent of a pair of shoes, a snack, drink and 2-3 textbooks)

Choose the right backpack

Backpacks should be made of the light materials. Vinyl and canvas are much better than leather.

The top of the backpack should not extend higher than the top of the shoulder and the bottom should not fall below the top of the hipbone.

The shoulder straps should be padded and at least 2 inches wide and should not fit too snugly around the arms, straining muscles and affecting nerves.

A hip strap or waist belt can take as much as 50-70% of the weight off the shoulders and spine. The waist belt will equalize the strain on the bones, joints and muscles.

Packing it properly

Students should pack the heaviest items closest to the body so that the weight is nearest the body’s own centre of gravity.

Students should pack the heaviest items closest to the body so that the weight is nearest the body’s own centre of gravity.

Putting the backpack on

It’s a good idea to help young children with this, at least the first few times.

The best way to put on a pack is to place it on a desk or table at waist height. Slip on the pack, one shoulder at a time, then adjust the straps to fit comfortably. Remember when lifting a backpack, or anything, to lift using the arms and legs and to bend at the knees. Avoid twisting!

The right way to wear a backpack

Both shoulder straps should be used, and adjusted so that the pack fits snugly to the body, without dangling to the side.

Backpacks should never be worn over just one shoulder. Backpacks with two straps distribute weight better than bookbags that are slung over the shoulder. Function should take precedence over fashion.

You should be able to slide your hand between the backpack and your child’s back. The waist strap should also be worn for added stability.

The British Columbia Chiropractic Association is concerned with the alarming trend in avoidable injuries and is teaming up with educators throughout the province to reinforce the “Pack it Light. Wear it Right” backpack safety program. If you are interested in learning more about backpack safety or scheduling your Comox Chiropractor, Dr. Houlgrave, to discuss backpack safety with you or a group, please contact him at

Patient edcuational resources including letters to parents, letters to educators, fact sheets, brochures, activity booklets, wall postures and videos can be viewed and ordered at

Backpack & School Drive – from July 15th to September 11th the British Columbia Chiropractors and the Salvation Army have partnered together to help send 5,000 local children in need to school this year with a new backpack full of school supplies. To learn more about how you can donate or help please check out